How to buy the best fridge
Everything you need to know to find the right fridge for your household.
How do I choose the best fridge?
Your fridge is one of the most expensive and important appliances in your home and it'll (hopefully) last you upwards of 10 years. We've laid out a list of fridge buying essentials to help you choose the coolest fridge for your household.
How big is your household?
Based on the number of people using the fridge, you can use the following as a rule of thumb when choosing fridge capacity:
|Household size||Recommended volume||Price range|
|1–2 people||250–380L (1)||$429–$2399|
|5 or more||440L+ (2)||$1079–$5500+|
(2) Add 28.5L for each additional family member, plus freezer space. If in doubt, get the bigger fridge.
Make sure your measurements allow for some room at the sides, top and rear of your new fridge so it's got some space to vent heat from the motor. If you don't allow for some wriggle room, you'll spend more in the long run as the fridge will need to work harder to keep its cool. As a rule we allow at least 5cm on all sides by default, and we list manufacturer recommended clearances in our fridge reviews.
Take a tape measure to your front door and hallways while you're at it, and make sure you can actually get that shiny new fridge into your kitchen – especially if you're upsizing.
If you think you might need more freezer space than offered with a fridge, you might want to check out our buying guide for standalone freezers.
Freezer on the top (Top mount)
If price, range, efficiency and value are your biggest concerns then a top mount fridge is for you.
Freezer on the bottom (Bottom mount)
Bottom mount fridges are all about convenience – and saving you from back pain.
Side-by-side (Fridge next to freezer)
Plenty of space and extra features make side-by-side fridges great for entertainers or large families.
French door (Bottom mount freezer with a two door fridge)
French door fridges combine the convenience of a bottom mount fridge with good capacity and extra features.
Pigeon pair (Separate, but matching upright fridge and freezer)
A pigeon pair combines plenty of storage capacity with more flexibility when it comes to placement.
Stainless steel fridges bring that sleek, professional look to your kitchen but can be prone to showing fingerprints and other marks. Look for matte or 'fingerprint-resistant' finishes if you don't want to be forever buffing away smudges, and expect to pay a little more if you like the stainless look.
Many high end stainless steel fridges offer a completely flat front, whereas most fridge doors are slightly curved. Many of them also aren't magnetic, which means no more fridge magnets – but then again why would you want to cover up such a beautiful appliance anyway?
White fridges are easier to keep clean than their stainless steel counterparts, and tend to be a little cheaper to buy, saving you money as well as time spent buffing fingerprints from the finish, and despite the popularity of stainless steel fridges there's plenty of options available if you want a white one.
Retro styled fridges in bright colours are increasingly popular as a statement appliance and combine a vintage look with modern fridge internals, but remember that your fridge is a long-term investment that will probably see several trends come and go. Consider how you'll feel about it in 10 years' time, and how it will suit a new kitchen if you move house.
Black appliances are back, with several manufacturers offering black, charcoal or dark finish fridges. A black fridge is a modern alternative to a plain white appliance but without the fingerprint showing tendencies of stainless steel, but they can be a little imposing and may make your kitchen itself seem darker.
The latest development in fridge design means eschewing metal altogether and using glass. No, this doesn't mean a clear window into your fridge, but you will often get a wide range of colours to choose from. Aside from aesthetics, glass won't show fingerprints quite as readily as a shiny stainless steel fridge, and you may have discreet controls which light up through the glass when in use but are all but invisible when dormant. Glass means the front of your fridge will be perfectly flat, not curved, and your favourite fridge magnets may not stick, but why would you want to cover up such a beautiful appliance anyway?
More energy stars, more savings
Your fridge contributes up to 8% of your energy bill so choosing an efficient one will save you money. While larger fridges will use more energy overall than smaller ones, the energy star ratings help you compare relative energy efficiency. Choose the fridge with more stars when choosing between two similar sized models because it will cost you less to run. How much less? Here's the difference in running costs for the same capacity fridge with different energy star ratings:
|4 stars||3.5 stars||2 stars||1 star|
|10-year running cost||$886||$988||$1248||$1596|
How much will a fridge cost to run per year?
The star rating will let you know how your fridge performs based on its size, but the number on the energy rating label gives you the raw figures, which may be more useful. Multiply this number by your energy cost to get an estimate of what it will cost you per year to run your fridge. For example:
- Your energy costs 30 cents/kWh
- The fridge uses 400kWh per year
- Your fridge is going to cost $120 a year to run ($0.30 x 400kWh).
Our fridge reviews include a 10-year running cost for each fridge, so you can easily compare how much each one will cost you over the life of the fridge.
Water and ice dispenser
- A dispenser located on the outside of the door saves you constantly opening and closing the fridge for cold drinks.
- Some water and ice dispensers need to be connected to a tap – an additional plumbing installation expense.
- With others, water can be dispensed from a container inside the door. This convenience has a trade-off though, and dispensers can take up almost 30% of your freezer space.
- Some water and ice dispensers also require replacement water filters – an additional periodic expense.
- A good crisper saves you having to put your fruit and veg in plastic bags. The compartment should be well sealed to keep vegetables fresh.
- It should also be easy to remove for cleaning.
- Check that the fridge's air outlets don't blow onto it, as this will dry your food out faster.
- If you store large volumes of fruit and veg, look for a fridge with more than one crisper.
- Your crisper should be at least 45cm wide to fit celery, leeks and other long vegetables.
- Make sure the handles aren't too high or too low and that the door opens in the right direction for your kitchen. Some models have reversible doors.
- Also make sure you can open the fridge doors easily and comfortably. Remember, a display fridge in store that's not plugged in will be easier to open than a fridge that's turned on.
- If you or someone in your household find fridges frustrating then check out our guide to choosing an accessible fridge for people with disabilities, vision impairment or cognitive impairment.
- Look for two separate temperature controls. A single control sets both the freezer and the fresh food compartment, so you can't adjust one without affecting the other. Some electronic fridges have better independent controls.
- Some fridges have a 24-hour memory that monitors door openings and pre-cools the fridge before a period of heavy use – such as when the kids get home from school or you're preparing dinner.
- Some fridges automatically manage defrosting to suit conditions.
- Some fridges let out a warning beep if you leave the door open too long, or forget to close it properly.
How to set up your fridge's temperature control settings
- Check your fridge is set to the recommended settings from the manual
- Use a thermometer to measure internal temperature (summer and winter)
- Adjust your settings until you have 3 degrees (fridge) and -18 (freezer)
- Maintain good airflow inside the fridge to Avoid hot and cold spots
- Watch our video on how to set up your fridge's temperature control settings.
- Shelves ought to be easy to remove and replace for cleaning or adjustment. Does the range of shelf positions suit your needs? For example, can you stand soft drink or wine bottles in the door shelves? Split shelves can be handy for this.
- Shelves may be made from moulded plastic or safety glass. Some shelves feature raised lips or other features to help stop spilt milk or other liquids spreading throughout your whole fridge.
Rollers and adjustable feet
- Rollers are useful for easy moving (such as when cleaning behind the fridge).
- Four rollers are better than two, provided they have brakes or adjustable feet to secure the fridge and stop it from escaping.
- Adjustable feet (or rollers) are necessary for ensuring your fridge is level from left to right. The front being slightly elevated from the rear means your door will close more easily, or possibly even on its own if you leave it open.
- A slightly warmer area of the fridge, convenient for keeping butter and hard cheeses slightly soft.
- Some fridges also have a lockable storage compartment, which is great if you need to keep medicines refrigerated but safely out of reach of small children.
Chiller (meat compartment)
- This compartment stores meat, fish and poultry (fresh or cooked) at a safe temperature, keeping it fresher for longer. Chiller temperature should be close to zero and ideally it should have a separate temperature control.
- Located close to the cold-air outlets, this feature is handy for cooling drinks quickly. However, food left there too long may freeze.
Keep kids safe and choose a child-friendly fridge with features such as:
- water and ice dispensers with child-proof settings
- a lockable medicine compartment
- temperature controls with a child lock.
- Whether or not fridge noise is an issue depends on your kitchen layout, whether it's open plan, and its proximity to living and sleeping areas.
- We list normal operating noise levels in our fridge reviews, so you can easily compare between models if noise is a concern for you.
- Fridges typically operate at around 35 decibels (dBA) during normal running, which is the equivalent of a whispered conversation (see How to avoid hearing damage to learn more about the decibel scale)
- However, they can also make a variety of strange noises due to compressor startup, automatic defrosting, electrical fans, and even from materials expanding and contracting as they change temperature. This is normal, but may be more noticeable in models which are quieter during normal running.
- Look for smooth, easy to clean surfaces with no awkward corners or dirt-trapping areas.
- Check how easy it is to remove and replace crisper drawers and shelves for when they require cleaning.
Most people expect their new fridge to last at least 10 years, but not all of them do. And with a typical manufacturer's warranty lasting only about two years, dealing with a faulty fridge can be a serious annoyance.
The annual CHOICE fridge reliability survey (member-viewed only) asks thousands of members about their experiences with their own fridges – what they think of them and how they've held up over time. With 9415 responses, our 2017 survey gives you a really good indication of how various fridge brands stack up over time – something we can't test in our labs.
Keeping food cold and safe for long periods is the whole point of a fridge, but not all fridges are equal in this regard. That's why we include a food safety score in our test. Our food safety score is made up of three elements which impact how well a fridge will keep your food: fluctuations, uniformity and ambient change.We don't recommend any fridge with a food safety score under 55%.
- Fluctuation score We measure how much the temperature fluctuates as the compressor starts and stops. Stable temperatures are better for food storage, and the higher the score, the more stable the temperature.
- Uniformity score We rate how uniform the temperature is throughout the entire fridge, without warmer or colder areas. The higher the score, the more even the temperature.
- Ambient change score We assess how well a fridge responds to ambient temperature changes, such as when going from summer to winter, or a warm day to a cool night. The higher the score, the better the fridge copes.
A poor food safety score doesn't mean food will go bad instantly, but it does mean it won't last as long, so you'll waste more food and money due to spoilage. And while it's tempting to assume new fridges will keep your food safe, nearly 30% of fridges we tested scored less than 55% for food safety.
Keeping an old fridge in the garage stocked with beer and assorted questionable beverages is something of an Aussie tradition, but switching it off will save you the equivalent of a couple of slabs each year in running costs – more if the fridge in question is old and inefficient.
The good news is, some retailers will take away your old fridge for disposal when they deliver your new one, so ask about this if you're buying a new fridge. If your old fridge is still in working condition then you may be able to sell it second-hand. Even if it's not working, the steel in it may have some residual value, and some scrap metal dealers accept old appliances so they can recover the raw materials, though make sure you call ahead first to confirm.